What do we mean when we say that Scripture is “inspired?” The term “inspiration” comes from 2 Timothy 3:16a, which reads, All Scripture is inspired by God. The Greek word translated “inspired” is more literally rendered “God-breathed.” When the Bible claims that all Scripture is God-breathed, it means that everything written there is “as much His Word as if He had spoken it audibly by means of breath.” Said another way, the doctrine of inspiration teaches that what has been written in the pages of Scripture are the very words of God.
Conservative evangelical theologians hold to what is called verbal plenary inspiration. That inspiration is verbal means that the actual language recorded in the original text is from God, including the syntax, grammar, and word order. That is, it is not merely the ideas or concepts that are inspired, but the actual words themselves. That inspiration is plenary means that Scripture in its totality is inspired. So, all of the Bible (plenary) in all of its parts (verbal) is the product of God’s out-breathing. Certainly, these characteristics are upheld by Scripture itself in 2 Timothy 3:16, since the phrase “all Scripture” leaves out no component of the Word.
One issue that arises when we consider the inspiration of Scripture is the extent to which human writers participated in the process. It does not take intense study of the Word to recognize that the different human authors have noticeably different writing styles. If all the words of Scripture are breathed out by God, why would not every part of Scripture reflect a single style, that of the Holy Spirit? 2 Peter 1:21 is helpful here: For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Here in the writing of Scripture we have an example of the interplay between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. Peter clearly writes that “men spoke.” He also writes that their speaking was from God, that they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. Though we may not understand it fully, the transmission of Scripture was accomplished by the Holy Spirit working in human writers in such a way that what they most wanted to write was what He most wanted written. Therefore, the words were inspired by God and yet bore the style of the human writer.
The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is crucial for the Christian life. That Scripture is breathed out by God is what under-girds its authority. Because the words themselves are the words of God they speak with the authority of God. The Bible is not a collection of man-made wisdom, nor is it a blending of some divinely-inspired texts and some humanly-inspired texts. To believe and obey the Word is to believe and obey God. To disbelieve and disobey the Word is to disbelieve and disobey God. Without a divinely-inspired Word, the believer does not have an authoritative truth to bring to bear on the issues of belief and behavior. God has truly given us a wonderful gift in the Bible. No wonder the psalmist wrote, In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches (Psa 119:14).
Jay Adams, A Theology of Christian Counseling (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1979), 17.
Posted by Greg Birdwell